July 30, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Snores

There are no spoilers in this.

It wouldn't break my heart to save people the unholy slog through this poorly plotted, averagely written book for them to know the ending.

First off I will start with a question. Has the Harry Potter series now become so inexorably linked to the idea of making children read again that this is now the ultra low benchmark modern literature has to attain? Notwithstanding authors such as C S Lewis and Roahl Dahl, what about the other modern day authors such as Garth Nix, Philip Pullman or Chris Wooding? Better written books, but perhaps not as well marketed?

I read the Deathly Hallows with a sense of foreboding. Perhaps the unconscious weight of expectation had gotten to me. More realistically I feel that after The Prisoner of Azkhaban the quality of the series had gone into rapid decline. When you have captivated your audience with the first instalments then perhaps you feel less obliged to deliver. For whatever reason, having finished the book I was left with a sense of "So that's it?"

The way the plot is moved along is more pacey than the previous 3 books. There are sections of the plot that leap along, or are drawn out that at points I actually was shouting at the book "It's so obvious! Why are you drawing out this bit??" There is not much in the way of character development, and the sense of redemption that Rowling attempts to introduce in some of the principles feels both inevitable and tacked on.

Worse is the sense of doubt that she attempts to cobble on. Frankly, it's ridiculous and insults the readers intelligence to think that they would, even for a moment, doubt Dumbledoor's integrity. So, Rowling, you say Harry was a pawn throughout the whole series - you don't say! Given that one of his friends in Hermoine(sp?) is far more intelligent and competent, I found her dumbing down in this book questionable.

Despite its flaws, it was a passable read. I doubt that I will be coming back to the series again now. Unlike The Chronicles of Narnia or the Abhorsen trilogy I cannot see any value in revisiting Harry's world. For someone who based their books off Star Wars I find her lack of understanding of the value of repeatedly visiting that universe perplexing to say the least.

Posted by AlexC at 12:53 PM | Comments (1197)

July 23, 2007

Why History Pleases Some of The People Some of the Time

Hello my fellow blog bunnies,

I see that there was an article sometime back about how we're going to drop Churchill from our syllabus and the outcry this caused... in other countries.

Gone are the days where history was fun and the exploration of topics meant that people could actually find a part of history that appealed to them. Like a lot of education in a lot of countries it is about rigid testing. And that's right! Rigid testing and learning by rote to recite facts back without understanding what they mean in any kind of context is the way to create and educated population that can independently think for itself.

But wait! There's more! Some indignant people in the US have picked up on this and rightly so. However, there is a teeny weeny little bit of hypocrisy at work here. Yes, we have an education policy laid down by the government, and yes (and here I am speaking from the point of view of a man who is betrothed to a teacher and whose mom, aunt and family friends were/are teachers too) it's flawed but then they're all singing from the same hymn sheet (so to speak) which means going from one school to another or one year to another ensures some kind of consistency for the children. But hey, that doesn't matter, right? Because interrupting a child's education and making them learn a whole different way and series of subjects is not disruptive is it? Now do you see why we have that education policy? Think about it...

Anyway, back to my hypocritical point. Sure it's bad that we've dropped Churchill, and it's bad that kids don't learn how bad our countries Imperialist ambitions were back in the olden days, or how the parallels between our expansionary policies and that of 80's US administrations (something some college and universities teach at 'A' level and higher) mean that we have a similar outlook on many foreign issues, but then again because we have this idea of implementing an education policy at a government level we don't teach Creationism as fact. And some of your schools do. Because they are left to get on with it.

I would be fairly willing to bet that no time soon are Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Princetown, Cambridge, Durham or any of the other world renowned universities going to be offering it as fact. At best, it might get in under Theological beliefs. However flawed you might think our policies are (and, really, they are crapola - we're creating a nation of service industry workers who can think in straight lines only), it is just one flaw in a world of educational cock-ups.

They may decide that Churchill should not be taught in schools any more, but the true free thinkers who go to university and choose to study someone so important in the shaping of the world as we know it today will know who he is and what he achieved.

And that will happen here, in America, in Russia, anywhere that goes beyond the rigid basic education system we seem to have in place now.

Posted by AlexC at 07:59 PM | Comments (2928)

July 19, 2007

Let's play....


The rules are very simple:

1: Anyone (dead of alive) can be in your band
2: You're only allowed ONE person for each section
3: You must state WHY that person is in your band - give examples where possible
4: The sections are - Lead Vocalist, Drummer, Lead Guitar, Bass Guitar, Second Guitar, Keyboardist (if wanted)
5: You're allowed TWO back-up singers

My choices are...

LEAD VOCALIST: Robert Plant. His 6 octave voice was a wonder to listen to, his range superb, he could range from subtle to full on power, and all this despite dodgy hair.

DRUMMER: Andy Sturmer. "Who?" I hear no-one cry! Well, he was the drummer/lead singer/song writer for a band called Jellyfish, who despite producing superb happy music were criminally neglected.

LEAD GUITAR: I challenge anyone not to have a list as long as their arm for this position. In the end I went for Ry Cooder. He makes playing it seem so effortless, can make the instrument sing, cry, be happy, sad - one of the great guitarists.

SECOND GUITAR: Dave Gilmour. I did toy with the idea of someone like Hendrix, Claption or Page but in the end it's the ability to be able to play a variety of guitar types and make them sound individual as a musician that appealed.

BASS GUITARIST: Flea from the Chilli Peppers. He plays it like it's a guitar, make it drive the song.

KEYBOARDIST: Martin Gore (Depeche Mode). Making the transition from New Romantics to Industrial pioneers with Indie cred, he's been the driving force behind it all. Plus he's not scared of a guitar.

Posted by AlexC at 10:46 PM | Comments (6)

July 17, 2007

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Some survey somewhere in good old Blighty quizzed kids from 7 - 11 (I think it was) on what type of job they wanted when they grew up.

I was shocked by the total lack of imagination and the reflection of a society where the general degeneration of values was starkly visible. When I were a lad, we had ambitions to be doctors, astronauts, racing drivers, scientists, deep sea divers, explorers, archaeologists (this was the time of Indiana Jones films), one of the Goonies - anything that sparked our imaginations!

***WARNING*** - Rambling Aside Alert!

When we were at school and Star Wars was released (we were about 6 or 7) me and my friends decided that on our work we would change our names to the various lead characters in Star Wars. So, for a whole day, I was Luke Skywalker (I was about as good an actor as Mark Hammil), my friends were Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia but no one wanted to be Ben Kenobi because they didn't want to die at the end of the day.


Nowadays kids want to be a Premiership footballer or a WAG, appear on Big Brother, win the lottery and most don't even have that much ambition. The overriding theme here is that they want a LOT of money, with all the accompanying chavtasticness (that's kind of like being trailer trash and wanting to be Britney Spears), but for what they perceive as doing very little (if any) work.

I had proper ambitions when I was at school. When I started thinking properly about it I wanted to be an inventor. Then as I grew older I wanted to be a navigator in the RAF (like my grandad had been), and then I wanted to be a geologist and work for a big oil company (something I considered to be worthwhile and exciting - travelling to remote places and drilling them for oil! Sheesh!). I became none of these things, but found something else instead.

I have ambitions for my children too. So long as they understand what the world is about I want them to find something interesting and worthwhile to do and make sure that they enjoy doing it. I want them to go to university and realise their ambitions, but to be able to talk to us about them and understand where their choice will take them.

Perhaps I want them to be the exception to the rule that seems to now dominate society.

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were at school? Do your kids know what they want to be, or what you hope for them to be?

Posted by AlexC at 10:37 AM | Comments (5)


Hey Americans!

I'd just like to say a great big "THANK YOU" for taking in David and Victoria Beckham. We were thoroughly sick of them and now you will get the chance to see a skeletal, fake breasted obnoxious woman (allegedly) and her husband flounce across your TV stations, Internet and printed media until you are so annoyed you will want to tear out your eyes and clean them with bleach.

Now that DB's there, do you actually care any more about soccer?

Posted by AlexC at 10:22 AM | Comments (9)

July 08, 2007

Works of Genius

Occasionally an advert makes you laugh out loud...

And a film trailer shows itself to be a masterpiece...

...and suddenly I've discovered I can use Youtube if I unblock the damned script!

Posted by AlexC at 09:28 PM | Comments (2008)

July 06, 2007

Tomorrow We Remember

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. We're on "severe" terror alert (why don't we get colours for alerts? much cooler) and there is this increasing feeling that the recent attacks were just testers for something worse to come.

I really hope not.

I also want to put a few things into perspective for any US readers out there.

This might seem like a remote thing to you, and that since 9/11 you've been fortunate not to have an attack on your own soil. As some of you may know I have to take my daughter into London fairly regularly for her checks due to her condition, and my new son may have to go to south London for checks on his kidney condition. All of these attacks that have targeted London have been within a mile of my daughters hospital location and during the 7/7 attack that hospital was admitting a lot of the injured as it was the closest one. Minutes away.

So while some people might look at this and think "Oh wow, 4000 miles away" it affects me and my family more readily that you can imagine. And we do sit here and we worry about it. We worry we might be caught up in it, or that Star might have an accident and we cannot get to the hospital because of some misguided, pathetic, mindless drone decides that now is the time for some virgins as they've never been laid in their lives. We worry that Jamie's kidney might need examining urgently and we end up caught on the QE2 bridge unable to move.

It may even seem like it is UK citizens trying to kill other UK citizens in the name of religion. However the people who tried to carry it out this time were all immigrants. Some were from Iraq and some were from Jordan. We have had UK citizens trying to kill us, but I suspect they know the security forces are watching them carefully now.

So take a moment to remember that we're suffering this because we chose to give you our unflinching support in the face of a world that didn't agree with what we were doing. That every casualty that we take on home soil is because we stand united with you on this and other issues.

Posted by AlexC at 09:33 AM | Comments (1968)

July 02, 2007

It just keeps getting worse...

Over the weekend we seem to have found another car bomb and then some genius' decided to drive a flaming jeep into Glasgow airport terminal. The (muslim) MP for the area described the muslim community in the area as being outraged (a bit of a no brainer really) at the acts of a 'few individuals'.

I can believe that these idiots are not acting on behalf of the larger muslim community. What I am confused with is this: it's a religious thing. It knows no boundaries because there are Arabs, people from Pakistan, Afghans, Iraqi's, Iranians and even the occasional Caucasian involved. So how do you conduct a war on terror when it is not based in any one country? Or where the general population of a country at large is not involved (or interested) in it?

I dare say that, in the unlikely event, should there be a peaceful change of government in Iran (for example) that the general population and the way the state sponsored media portray the anti-western stance would soften considerably. So a change in government prompts a change in attitude from both sides. However in religion this is a much more difficult proposition. Islam has its mullahs but there is no one central head of the religion is there? They don't have an equivalent of the Pope do they? So the individual Imam's have the religious authority and provide the guidance. Is the trick to root out these people? However then it stops being a war on terror and starts becoming a war on religion and the majority of people who are part of that religion would take exception and it would become a much more difficult and terrifying situation.

We might get a little pissed off when someone insults the head of our religion, if we are that way inclined. However the comforts of western civilisation and the advancements we have made in terms of quality of life means that this has superseded any overwhelming religious zeal we may have once had (for the most part). Where religion tends to be prevalent and have that kind of power over people is where there is little hope in terms of quality of life. I suppose what concerns me is are we becoming that kind of country? Are we not offering these people enough that we can be portrayed as the sellers of broken dreams now?

Or is it that there is something more insidious involved? How do these people envisage a victory? It must have gone beyond just pulling out of Afghanistan or Iraq by now surely? How do we win?

Posted by AlexC at 10:12 AM | Comments (2070)